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THE HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE UGANDA

Defending Human Rights Defenders


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The sixth Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Uganda

PRESS STATEMENT

The general overview of this sixth Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Uganda

The Human Rights Centre Uganda is pleased to launch its sixth annual report on the working environment of human rights defenders in Uganda for the period of 2016 titled; “HRDs Striving for a Better Environment for the Protection and Promotion of their Rights.” This report provides an analysis on the operating environment as well as perspectives of HRDs on the extent to which their rights are promoted and protected. The report further provides information on the effectiveness of human rights defenders work in Uganda and recommendations on how to strengthen it.

The Operating Environment for Human Rights Defenders- the Key Issues

From our findings, the key issues that were affecting the working environment for HRDs were in relation to the conducive legal framework, strong and independent national human rights institutions, effective protection policies and mechanisms paying attention to HRD groups at risk, strong dynamic community of HRDs and respect of the work of HRDs by non-state actors.

Despite the existence of laws that provide an overall enabling framework for promotion and protection of HRDs rights such as the Constitution, there were still concerns with some specific laws that inhibit the full enjoyment of HRD rights.  These included the selective implementation of the Public Order Management Act, the restrictive provisions of the Anti-Pornography Act that have adverse impact on the freedom of expression and speech of HRDs among others. The report also noted the lack of a specific law to protect and recognize the work of HRDs.

Another key aspect of an enabling environment for HRDs was access to justice and ending impunity. Impunity against HRDs occurs when complaints submitted about alleged violations of their rights are not investigated or are dismissed without justification. The Government’s lack of investigation or slow pace of investigations of such violations could be seen as condoning attacks against HRDs. This could in turn nurture an environment where further violations are perceived as tolerated thus inhibiting access to justice

Institutions with the mandate for protection and promotion of the rights of HRDs, specifically, the UHRC and the EOC demonstrated interest in engaging with HRDs; participating in initiatives to amplify the important role of HRDs; and the need for their protection. However, these institutions were resource constrained and their effectiveness hampered by the inconsistent response by the State to recommendations and/or statements they made.

The report goes ahead to cite an increase in the number of individuals and organizations that identified themselves as HRDs and HRD organizations however, coordination and collaboration among HRDs at the district and local levels was minimal. In spite of the increase in the number identifying as HRDs, there were still gaps in the focus of HRDs. Specifically, there was limited attention to the role of non-state actors in promoting and adhering to human rights, as well as monitoring how they engage with HRDs and HRD organizations.

Enjoyment of rights under the UN Declaration on HRDs

During the survey the majority (81%) of HRDs reported enjoying their human rights as individual HRDs compared to 19% who said they did not. Some of the most frequently highlighted human rights that they enjoyed include: Conducting human rights work individually and in association with others, the lawful exercise of the occupation or profession of HRD, seeking, obtaining, receiving and holding information relating to human rights and having unhindered access and communication with non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations.

The most violated rights

The environment of operation for HRDs seemed more conducive for defenders dealing with non-controversial, non-sensitive matters, particularly service delivery, compared to those engaging in advocacy on politically and economically-sensitive issues.  The most violated rights cited were the right to effective protection under the law and the right to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights.

Least violated rights

Among the least violated rights, were the right to access information including the information on human rights enjoyed by 90% of HRDs however HRDs, working in the oil and gas sector mentioned that they were not always able to access all the information that they sought and this stemmed from the sometimes poor information and documentation systems in Government agencies.

The right to effective access to participate in governance and public affairs was enjoyed by 81% of HRDs who stated that they were able to participate in governance forums at local, district and national level, public proceedings and trials and were able to submit criticisms and proposals on government policies and programmes.

Similarly the right to work in association with others and to lawfully exercise their occupation was enjoyed by 96% of HRDs. The few that were hindered were HRDs that advocate for the rights of LGBTI persons, since their activities were deemed illegal.

85% of HRDs also mentioned that they enjoyed he right to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Perpetrators of the threats (rank)

In reference to these threats, HRDs have reported the perpetrators being largely members of the community at 28% followed by government officials at 17% and politicians (16%) and this indicated a need for more engagement with them to better understand and appreciate the role and work of HRDs.

Trends over the past three years (good ones and persistent challenges)

The key trends cited in this report were increased collaboration between NGOs and some state agencies. The steady increase in the networking and support between NGOs and state agencies has been reported since 2014 and 2016 saw a continued establishment of this good working relationship through participation in discussions on the NGO Act 2016 by both state and non-state actors.

 The operating environment of HRDs in Uganda still presents recurring challenges. Critical challenges affecting the operating environment included among others, inadequate human and technical capacity to execute human rights work; lack of coordination and strong networks to protect the rights of HRDs particularly outside Kampala; resistance to human rights education arising from the contradiction between human rights provisions and some established traditional and cultural beliefs, practices and norms, threats, intimidations and office break-ins at NGO premises. Similarly identified was the lack of public support and appreciation of the work of HRDs owing to cultural religious and traditional beliefs as well as the limited understanding of the concepts and roles of HRDs in Uganda.

Recommendations

The report made specific recommendations to specific entities.  Parliament was urged to review existing laws that impede the work of HRDs and ensure that the legislative framework reflects provisions of the Constitution and Uganda’s international commitments to ensure a safe and conducive environment for HRD and to draft and enact specific legislation that will articulate HRD rights and provide for their protection and promotion.

HRD organizations were urged to strengthen the collaboration and networking amongst HRDs, enhance joint advocacy interventions for HRD-specific legislation, increase awareness amongst HRDs about protection mechanisms and increase attention to the work of women HRDs and the challenges they face as one of the groups most at risk among others

Uganda Human Rights Commission and JLOS Secretariat were urged to build capacities in HRD institutions targeting government officials both at the national and lower levels to raise awareness on the Declaration of HRDs; promote understanding of the role of HRDs and how they complement Government work.

The Uganda Police Force was urged to ensure timely investigations and prosecution of perpetrators particularly of break-ins into HRD offices to hold them accountable.

Development Partners were urged to support capacity building initiatives of HRDs with particular, provide flexible and agile funding requirements to facilitate increased funding for broader categories of HRDs, including those that work at the grassroots and support process of ensuring that HRDs are self -sustaining through strategic training on resource mobilisation techniques and supporting HRDs in establishing alliances with HRDs in other jurisdictions.





 
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